South Carolina city kills residential solar because math is hard

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One of the simplest economic concepts to grasp is that luxury comes at a premium price. From lobster dinners to Balenciaga sneakers and 4K TVs, you pay a little bit more for a top-of-the line experience. But why stop solely at disposable consumer goods? The city of Georgetown, SC asked itself that question and decided to make solar panels a luxury item by imposing a $50 “monthly accounting fee” for citizens who decide to install solar panels.

For anyone wondering, $50 a month translates to $600 a year, equivalent to 20 lobster dinners, two pairs of Balenciaga sneakers or a brand-new 65-inch LG 4K TV.

The reason behind the new fee? A representative says that the city’s current accounting software cannot accommodate the addition of solar to one’s electric bill, meaning that city employees will have to calculate the bills of solar customers by hand. The software is not equipped to account for energy flowing back onto the grid.

While this seems like a bit of a lame excuse, let’s give Georgetown the benefit of the doubt. The first solar installations in South Carolina didn’t come about until very, very recently: roughly a decade ago. And since then, solar development has been quieter than in other areas. It’s not like residential solar installations have grown in the state every year since 2015 or anything.

Furthermore, it’s not like the state passed a law removing all caps on net metering and establishing the groundwork for another credit system due to the popularity of residential solar in the state or anything like that. No, to be quite honest, the city of Georgetown had absolutely no way to predict that their software was woefully out of date and out of touch with the evolving market of personal generation in the state. They only had a decade.

But, as we at pv magazine have said time and time again, to assume that all, or even most laws are passed with every aspect of contribution and consequence reviewed and considered is naïve.

So now the city sits where many other similar cities have sat before it: in residential solar limbo. It doesn’t matter what the name is, whether it’s an “additional service charge,” “grid access charge” or our new favorite, the “monthly accounting fee,” in the end, all of these fees and charges amount to being nothing more than thinly-veiled attempt to kill the distributed solar industry by making systems financially inaccessible to the average citizen through, quite literally in this case, archaic pricing models.

And the truth of the matter is that if killing the rooftop solar industry is the goal, arbitrary fixed charges are an effective means. Just over a year ago we saw customers of Southwestern Public Service in New Mexico liberated from a $28 monthly “standby fee” that effectively paralyzed the rooftop solar industry in the area.

If a $28 dollar fee cripples residential solar in New Mexico, imagine what $50 a month will do in South Carolina. All this because of electric billing models utilized in ignorance of all advancements in personal generation over the last decade.

Oh and for some additional fun. Residents upset at this charge who want to find a different entity to purchase electricity from are in for a tough search. This is because the neighboring co-op, Santee Electric Cooperative also imposes a$50 fee per month “base facilities charge” for net metering. Hooray!